Gov. Gavin Newsom claims progress in resolving California’s decades-long water allocation conflict, but it’s a partial deal at best
The holy grail of participating in California’s decades-long political and legal battle over how to distribute the state’s water supply is some form of master agreement.
Countless efforts have been made to negotiate such a peace treaty and some premature declarations of success. Yet the water war in California continues, with clashes between the water bureaucracy, the legislature, Congress, the courts and even the White House.
The water battle involves dozens of specific agricultural and municipal water agencies and environmental groups, each with a specific stake in the outcome — colloquially known as “buffaloes” — and their perpetual contest is for lawyers, lobbyists and public relations staff It’s a lucrative industry.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom became the latest governor to claim progress in resolving the conflict, announcing a $2.6 billion deal between the state and some municipal and agricultural factions to Improve fish habitat by reducing the amount of water drawn from the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems so that more can flow naturally.
“We don’t have to choose between a healthy ecosystem or a healthy economy,” Newsom said in a written statement. “We can choose a path that does both. It’s a meaningful, hard-won step in the right direction.”
Maybe, but we’ve heard that statement before. The Voluntary Agreement, known as the Voluntary Agreement, omits some of the biggest players in water games, not only some of the San Joaquin Valley agricultural water districts, but the city and county of San Francisco, which is the largest watershed through its Hetch Hetchy. One of the dams.
It also lacks support from environmental groups, who argue it is not enough to protect salmon and rainbow trout habitats in the river and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said, “The voluntary agreement framework process violates the legal principles of environmental justice and inclusion and is inconsistent with public trust or the human right to water. Governor Newsom continues to serve the interests of California’s top 2 percent of agribusiness , at the expense of Northern California tribes, delta communities, commercial fishing interests and communities in need of improved drinking water.”
Although it’s called a “voluntary agreement,” it’s hardly the case because it was negotiated as an alternative to the state’s water control board’s plan to reduce river diversions. Those plans have been shelved for several years while negotiations continue, but environmental groups are more inclined to mandate cuts because it would be bigger.
The process is based on a long-standing conflict over whether state water boards have statutory authority to reduce water improvements for agricultural and municipal water agencies with senior water rights. Holders of those rights argue that they take precedence, while environmental activists argue that the state constitution’s “public trust” principles for water give the commission enough legal power to control the flow of water.
Without a more comprehensive deal, the water board could go ahead and enforce reduced diversions, which could spark a legal showdown over how much power it really has.
There’s another major aspect of the process – its impact on the long-term plan to reduce traffic from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta by building a tunnel under the delta to transport water from the Sacramento River to the head of the California Aqueduct and Federal Canal. Direct diversion near Tracy. Barrigan-Parrilla and other environmental campaigners see the new agreement as an attempt to make the tunnel project more acceptable.
peace treaty? More like a partial, maybe a temporary ceasefire.